Randall Byrge was presented at the Scott County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly board of directors luncheon on Thursday as the 2020 Chamber of Commerce/Independent Herald Person of the Year.
Byrge was introduced as the Person of the Year in December, but the formal presentation didn’t come until Thursday’s meeting, held at the Scott County Senior Citizens Center in Oneida. The Person of the Year is usually presented at the Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting in January, but that meeting was canceled this year due to coronavirus.
Before a smaller crowd of directors and guests at Thursday’s luncheon, Byrge was presented a plaque and spoke to those present about his work to help Scott Countians who suffer from addiction and substance abuse.
Byrge, who routinely shares his story and testimony in churches, schools and to other groups, is himself a former addict who successfully underwent recovery treatment at Roloff Homes Ministries in Corpus Christi, Tex., then stayed on at the faith-based organization to assist other Scott Countians who had entered rehab. Upon returning to Scott County, he accepted a job with General Sessions Judge Jamie Cotton’s Recovery Court, and now works for the S.T.A.N.D. Coalition. His faith-based recovery group meets at Thrive Church each Tuesday and began assuming a visible role within the community last year. Most notably, members of the group marched in the Town of Huntsville’s Independence Day parade on July 4.
With the help and support of his family and friends, Byrge has also placed a number of “But God” signs throughout Scott County. The signs are a reference to Ephesians 3:4 in the New Testament: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” It is scripture that changed Byrge’s life in November 2012.
A number of Byrge’s family and other supporters were in attendance at Thursday’s luncheon. Among them, his mother and father, James and Mitzi Byrge; his brother, Jamie Byrge; his daughter, Addy; Theresa Braden; attorney Scarlett Ellis; and S.T.A.N.D. Executive Director Trent Coffey.
“There’s an old saying about how you can’t judge someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” said Independent Herald Publisher Ben Garrett in introducing Byrge as the Person of the Year. “All of us know how big a problem drug abuse is, we know how it hinders us from an economic development standpoint, we know how it rips at the very fabric of our community, which is our families. But most of us are powerless to make a difference because we don’t truly understand it; we can’t understand it because we haven’t walked in those shoes. It’s too easy to look at someone struggling with addiction and say, ‘Why don’t you get clean? You’re on the verge of losing your job. You’re on the verge of losing your family. You’re on the verge of losing everything. Why don’t you just get clean?’ And it’s hard for us to comprehend that it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and saying, ‘I’m gonna get clean.’
“So it was always going to take the right person — or the right people, because one person can’t do it alone — to make a difference. And Randy Byrge is the right people. Because he’s been there. He’s been in their shoes,” Garrett added.
While Byrge began his work to help others recover from addiction as soon as he returned to Scott County, it was in 2020 that his recovery group and sign ministry really became visible in Scott County.
“It’s easy to think of drug abuse as a cycle that’s never going to change,” Garrett said. “Someone gets addicted, they lose their job, they lose their family, they get arrested, they go to jail, then they get out and it starts all over again, and we think nothing is ever going to change. But for the first time, it feels like there is hope, it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s mostly because one person — Randy Byrge — was willing to step out with faith and courage and do something most of us wouldn’t have had the strength to do, and that’s share his story.”
In an emotional address, Byrge said he had invited his family to join him for Thursday’s presentation because he wanted people to see that it takes more than one person to make a difference.
“It takes a lot of people to help me,” he said. “Why should my brother, who told my parents to not let me back in his house because he had a stainless steel grill and he caught me trying to steal it, be risking getting fired to miss work and be here today? Why should my parents, who told me that I could sleep in their driveway but I wasn’t welcome back in their house because I had stolen so much from them, be here today?”
Byrge said it’s not easy to help those who struggle with addiction. He introduced Braden, the woman he has long credited with being one of his biggest supporters, as his “ex-fiance’s mother.”
“Why should she be here today?” he said. “She’s the last person on earth who should’ve stood by me.”
Byrge said that when he was suffering from addiction, he would call Braden on a daily basis, and every day she would urge him to get help.
“People used to ask her why she had such a heart for Randy Byrge, and she’d say, ‘I wish I didn’t,'” he said.
Byrge said it’s imperative that addicts get the support they need. He recalled a person he visited in jail recently who was suffering from addiction. “I did what I always do,” he said. “I asked everyone else to leave the room. And I asked them, ‘Are you ready to get clean today?'” Byrge said. “And he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ And I kept talking to him.”
While he was sitting in Thursday’s luncheon, Byrge said, he got a text from the inmate. The man said he was ready to enter rehab.
“Where would he be if I had talked to him like a dog, if I hadn’t talked to him like he was somebody?” Byrge said.
Byrge said there will always be drugs in Scott County. “I could stand in this room long enough and find something to get high on,” he said, before pointing to a bottle of hand sanitizer. “I could use salt and separate the alcohol from the gel in that hand sanitizer and be drunk in 10 minutes. So there will always be drugs. What we have to do is make sure people are happy with their life and don’t have a reason to try to escape it. I’m happy with my life. I’m happy just hanging out at home and being a daddy to my little girl.”
Helping Scott County overcome its drug abuse problem, Byrge said, will require the efforts of everyone who has a stake in the community’s future.
“We are seeing a little bit of a difference,” he said. “But just a little bit. If every person in this room gets involved, we can see a big difference. And when that happens, my little girl, when she grows up, she’ll have a better Scott County to live in.”